Jeff Inman, general manager, Dancing Eagle Casino, Casa Blanca, N.M.:
The recession is having a most unusual effect on our operations. The customer base is changing. We in the past got a lot of business from truckers, but with fewer big rigs being sent out their business is down. We also are seeing fewer travelers who pass through, but we have seen more snow birds on our slot floor. I’m optimistic that with people cutting expenses, we’ll see this summer more vacationers traveling by car instead of by airplane, who will stop at our casino on their way to the scenic attractions in the Four Corners region. Our current customers are playing more penny slots; so much so that they now account for nearly 70 percent of our total slot business. In fact, all of the 100 new slots we have budgeted to add to the floor this year are penny slots. We are also finding that customers are changing their preference to less volatile slots, preferring those on which they can put in a lot of floor time.
We are changing our marketing strategy to go with the times. While in the past we might have promoted a change to win a big prize like a Ford Ranger pickup truck or a large cash sum by playing on our slots floor. But now we are promoting lots of smaller but still worthy cash prizes in an effort to bring in more day trippers from the surrounding area. Our marketing efforts also are stressing more of the entertainment aspect of slots play, while in the casino we are ramping up customer service in an effort to make customers want to visit more often. We have not had any layoffs on our slot floor. All of our budget cutting was on the table games area, where we closed our pit and installed automated game tables from Shuffle Master and Novomatic. But even there, nobody lost their job as we transferred out table games employees to our sister casino closer to Albuquerque.
Marcus Zavala, general manager, Ellis Island Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nev.:
The recession hasn’t affected our slot operations much. Our floor is the same. Customers are merely moving to lower denomination machines. Play on our $1 and 25-cent slots are down while it has increased on our nickel and penny slots. But we’re doing OK because we anticipated the downturn and planned ahead. One way we cut down costs is to go with more participation machines on our slot floor while reducing purchases of new games.
Among participation machines, we are getting the latest Star Wars slots, which we feel will be a big hit with our customers. With the exception of our director of slot operations, we have had no layoffs. We are paring down employment to match current need by, whenever an employee leaves, we check to see if the job is really needed at present. If not, it remains unfilled. When the economy gets better, I may refill some of those positions. To bring in additional slots customers, our marketing efforts now aim at their stomachs. We promote meal specials – the 20-ounce Angus burger at $1.50 and a full slab of barbecue ribs at $11.95, not to mention our own Ellis Island beers from our own microbrewery at $1.50 a glass – to get customers in. Most play slots after being well fed.
Chuck Hickey, vice president of slot operations, Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino, Lakeside, Calif.:
We’re holding our own despite the economy. Our $1 slots are doing real good at present, though on lower-denomination machines, customers are moving down. The nickel slot guy is now playing penny slots, and the penny slot guy is moving out the door. Being an upscale casino, we are holding our penny slots to about 20 percent of the floor.
Because of the economy, we’ve had to expand our advertising and increase the number of promotions to get customers in. These include buffet specials, though we have three new restaurants to entice visits. We don’t plan to add many new machines this year, though this is mostly due to our major upgrade of the slot floor last year, with making everything AFT capable and adding the iView system. Our capital outlays on the slots floor will thus be much less than normal. We have not had to layoff anyone in the slot area. Whatever staffing reduction is needed is being done through attrition. And there have not been many new hires in the past year.
Todd Deremer, vice president of gaming operations, Excalibur hotel-casino, Las Vegas, Nev.:
We’re getting the same number of people on our slot floor, but they are spending less. Customers are gravitating to the penny slots, which is the place where our revenues have gone up of late. More customers have become value customers, and since we have always catered to these customers, we are doing better than many other operations.
Still because of these changes, we have had to scale back on capital outlays and had to postpone some projects. We had some layoffs several months ago, but things are now stabilized as we now have the optimum staff to handle the current business. But we are not planning any new hires at this time.